To get set for tonight’s matchup against the Washington Wizards, we hooked up with Conor D. Dirks of the TrueHoop Network’s Truth About It. Me n’ Robert Silverman talked Knicks over at their place too. Link’ll be up soon.
It was a tad surprising to see Washington ditch their starting small forward, Trevor Ariza, filling the gap on the wing with Paul Pierce. What’s the primary cost of Ariza’s exit, and how might we expect Pierce to fit in alongside
Otto Porter Jr. and Rasual Butler Wall & Beal? Also, on a scale of one to 1995 Pat Riley, how much more should Knicks fans loathe the Wizards with Pierce on board?
CDD: As one of my favorite Wizards to cover (his throwaway press scrum one-liners were unmatched), the personal cost is high. Ariza has picked up in Houston right where he left off, and through four games, is shooting 59.3 percent on 3-pointers. That this is not particularly surprising should be an indicator of how expected, and necessary, Ariza’s redefined role as a catch-and-shoot ace was with Washington. Trouble is, with Beal and Webster both injured, the shooting issue is compounded. The theater in which samples are held is small and all, but the Wizards are taking five fewer 3-pointers per game so far this year.
That said, the Wizards did the right thing when they didn’t beat Houston’s offer for Lord Threeza. Signing Ariza would have locked them into their current team for years, with very little wiggle room to tweak and improve their good, but not great, roster. The Pierce signing, on the other hand, is a bargain (two years, $11 million) and wraps up neatly before the summer during which every red-white-and-blue-blooded Wizards fan will be convinced the team is on the brink of signing Kevin Durant.
Of course, Paul Pierce the player (rather than chess piece) is still excellent, when he’s not getting tossed unceremoniously from games for talking incessantly at a very busy referee. He’s already started to discover what Martell Webster and Ariza discovered before him. If you stand in the corner, John Wall will get you buckets. Last year, in Brooklyn, his pet shot was the above-the-break 3-pointer, and I expect he’ll get opportunities there, too, as a trailer to the Wall-led fast break. Ultimately, the Wizards signed Pierce for exactly what he provided in the game against Orlando last Thursday: in the fourth quarter, Wall fed Pierce when the Wizards needed points to keep up with a suddenly frisky Magic team, and Pierce delivered, posting up a smaller Ben Gordon on back-to-back plays before hitting a jumper he’s hit hundreds and hundreds of times over a long career.
Maybe I underestimate the Wizards notoriety, but I’m not sure they’re a hate-worthy team yet. They haven’t won 50 games since 1979, man. Unless they fax 120 points to Carmelo’s home office tonight, I think they’re subject to more of a gentleman’s distaste than a Cavs-level “these motherfuckers” eyeroll. But hey, that’s just me. Maybe you hate the Wizards before it’s cool to hate the Wizards, maybe you hate “their early stuff.” It’s New York, after all.
Last year, Washingon bopped the Knicks at MSG in one of the more Knicks-ian ways imaginable. Most of the participants from said debacle are gone (pours one out for Beno Udrih), but it doesn’t appear as if the Knicks are any better equipped to combat the ‘Zards chief offensive weapons. Which dagger do you do you see Washington choosing to slice up the Knicks tonight?
CDD: Short answer: I don’t! While New York’s lineup strikes me as one of the most unlikely in recent history, something is working so far. When the Knicks transubstantiated LeBron’s new Cavs skin into the stale biscuit of misguided corporate zeal last week, they showed that they’re capable…aw shit, I’m not going to be able to sum this up better than your own Kevin McElroy did in the recap: the Knicks are not here to be extras, whether it be in LeBron’s coronation scene, or, presumably, elsewhere this season.
Remember, too, that the final, fatal points in that game were scored by a Washington Wizard who is on the shelf – Bradley Beal. Washington’s defense hasn’t figured itself out yet (it will – Randy Wittman does defensive systems very well, even if he doesn’t do all that much else), and the team is vulnerable to hot 3-point shooting.
The Wizards got a shade less than 1000 minutes from the Gortat-Nene pairing last season, besting opponents by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor. How many minutes do you realistically think they’ll log together in 2014-15, and what’s the ceiling for this team with a healthy frontline?
CDD: I would have opened this answer by saying there’s just no way that Nene plays all 82 games this season, but he beat me to the punch. The NBA’s most draconian rule resulted in a Game 1 suspension for standing up and observing the aftermath of Paul Pierce “booping” Joakim Noah in the team’s first preseason game. The Brazilian “gladiator” (Marcin Gortat’s words, not mine (Gortat also recites lines from 300 in the pre-game locker room, so he has a thing)) is a lock to play less than the full complement of regular season games this year. My best guess? 65.
In terms of total minutes, it depends on whether new signees Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair ever get their acts together. Humphries has been awful thus far, and is at risk of making his “reformed celebrity” image vulnerable to criticism, even in D.C., known to many as “Hollywood for ugly people.” Here’s something about Humphries that you might not know: he said “organic” outside the context of food in his first-ever D.C. media day Monumental Network (owner Ted Leonsis’ web-based broadcast network) interview. Regardless, his chunky cardigan-wearing ass is semi-likable for now. If he and Blair play well, Wittman may be comfortable giving Nene fewer in-game minutes, thereby reducing the likelihood that he’ll miss a game here and there for maintenance. So: 900 minutes.
For the last two seasons, even when Emeka Okafor rather than Gortat started, Washington’s starting lineup has been one of the top 5-man units in the NBA. By contrast, their bench has been one of the worst. That was supposed to be a thing of the past, but here we are. Kevin Seraphin’s aura is so toxic that he seems capable of poisoning a lead just by entering the game (he’s second-worst in the NBA in PER right now at MINUS-19.7) This team’s ceiling, if healthy, is probably a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Caveat: if the Wizards draw Chicago in the semis, they have a real shot at the Eastern Conference Finals.
There is a cupboard full of veteran bros on the roster. Who’s the shrewdest, savviest floor general/locker room leader/[insert cliché] of them all, and why?
CDD: TAI’s editor-in-chief Kyle Weidie answered this question with aplomb, after chirps from myself and co-editor John Converse Townsend, in our annual season preview. So I’m punting to him. Bring us home, Kyle.
“Andre Miller by unanimous decision,” posed John C. Townsend in a GChat. I was most definitely ready to concur. Oldest dude in the NBA (who will play; Steve Nash still “technically” an NBAer) with deceptive on top of deceptive on top of deceptive passing skills to boot? That’s like savvy meatloaf made with savvy grass-feed beef from savvy cuts of certified Angus with savvy bacon from Marcin Gortat’s finest, savvy pig wrapped around it. Gots to be the Professor, right?
Hol’ up, chimed Conor D. Dirks. “What about Paul Pierce?” Miller’s passing is nice, but savvy really means that you bring game-closing offense to the table. Telling the truth always wins out in savvy contests. (And contrary to popular belief, the savvy do not lie.)
One final point from Mr. Dirks, “Also, is RASUAL BUTLER the savviest? I mean, he found a way to make a team over younger prospects despite being on/off NBA teams over last few years.”
Mr. Butler is more like a wrench to this game, but a wrench that can do other things (for the ingenious and defensive-minded, a knife, a cork screw, and a nail file fold out the end of said wrench).
Alas, in the two-horse race between Andre and Paul, as Mr. Townsend called it, the nod is going to go to Pierce. He’s got a ring (so savvy), and unlike Andre Miller, he embraces mind games with opponents. That Paul Pierce, he’s like the candy corn of savvy. Whatever that means.